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Ten Things I Know About Being a Care Worker

24/07/2014 11:55 BST | Updated 22/09/2014 10:59 BST

1. 'Homes Under the Hammer' will ruin your day because it will ruin the day of the people in your care. Unless someone has specifically requested to watch day time TV, do everything you can to prevent them from languishing in front of that loathsome dross. Not just because it is soul destroying, but because the lack of stimulation and companionship would evoke anxiety or anger in even the healthiest of minds. The emotional impact is inevitable. If you really can't spend time with your residents because you're running around trying to make sure that no one is thirsty/soiled/bleeding from a head wound, then do everything you can to steal a moment to put something interesting on. It's not hard to think of something more visually stimulating than the middle classes trying to make a profit out of the economic downturn.

2. Rome wasn't built in a day. I pride myself in being able to build strong, trusting bonds with the people in my care, but this is rarely achieved over night. Years ago, I used to care for a gentleman who would only let me wash him; no one else could get near him, and neither could I to start with. Then he let me give him a bowl of water to wash his hands in. Then he let me wash and apply cream to his feet. We chatted the whole time and the dry skin that had irritated him began to heal. After about six weeks we finally tried a full body wash and settled on a routine that suited him. This took patience, time and effort.

3. Good care workers are not meek and mild. We are advocates. We have to be able to speak up.

4. It's worth spending 12 hours wages every six months on good shoes because your knees and back will thank you later. You may also want to consider stock piling bananas and porridge oats. Each shift is like a work-out: prepare for it and look after yourself. And, for the love of your stomach lining, don't fall into the Red Bull Trap. It's not pretty.

5. Care Workers are vital. We are the eyes and ears on the ground. We know how much Mrs Smith normally eats and sleeps, if she's been this confused before, if she's in more pain than usual. We know what doctors need to know in order to make a diagnosis. We can mean the difference between prevention and cure.

6. It's OK to take risks but nobody really wants to say it. The only rule is that you must provide person-centred care, but we haven't worked out how to do this yet. Sometimes, I think we're scared of allowing quality of life, especially when it comes to dementia. Something might go wrong. There might be unpredictable outcomes, which would be terrifying. As a sector, we have a lot of growing and maturing to do.

7. I am a comedian. I did not know that you could dance to ABBA whilst sober until I started working in dementia care. I turn everything into a joke even if what I really want to do is go to bed and cry (or smack government ministers in the mouth).

8. Put yourself in their shoes, and do it properly. This isn't about bemoaning how hard it must be to have dementia/be in constant pain. Imagine what it would be like if it happened to you. How would you react? What would you miss? What would you get angry about? What wouldn't you get angry about? What tiny, little thing could make life just that bit more bearable? Now, research the person in your care. Use your imagination to piece the jigsaw together. Don't be afraid of trial and error. Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day.

9. This job will drive you mad. It's not just the lack of time, resources and common sense that will send you loopy. Nor is it watching nonagenarians call out for their mothers, or wincing in pain that you can't take away. It's the 'up' side as well. I take genuine joy from my work, and laugh my arse off on a daily basis.

10. It's not all making tea and wiping backsides but both these tasks - and the humility and humanity to carry them out - are integral to the role. I have a working knowledge of five acts of law, a basic grasp of dementia-related neuroscience and intimate empirical knowledge of the effects and side effects of anti-psychotics. But if someone tells me there's too much milk in their tea, I make them another one. I hate too much milk in my tea - how would I feel if it was me?